Home alone with 9 million readers

Click to follow
The Independent Online
NORMALLY I have little sympathy with complaints about the tabloid press. But this week I've been worried by the wretched business of the 'Home Alone' girl, Gemma Gibson. Presumably the police and/or the social services alerted the press to this case because they thought publicity would help them to find the mother and indeed it did. But was it wise? Yasmin Gibson told her daughter she would be back in a month; there was no particular reason to disbelieve her; it would have been more sensible, more 'caring' in the jargon, to have waited quietly for her return than to have set up this vindictive hue and cry which seems to have been motivated more by fury at the mother's enjoying herself than by genuine anxiety for the child. In the long term, it has done Gemma and her mother no good at all - a fragile but still functional relationship may now have been damaged beyond repair. Yasmin Gibson is obviously a foolish woman but not necessarily a wicked one; far more wicked are the journalists who encouraged mother and child to badmouth each other and who lashed up a storm of public indignation over a really rather trivial case. Before everyone screams at me for calling it trivial, let me quickly say that I am not in favour of mothers leaving their children: nevertheless, Gemma Gibson is 11, not seven, and obviously more competent than most to look after herself. What is far more worrying is the possibility that Yasmin Gibson has been rewarded for her irresponsible behaviour, by the sale of her story to the Sun. If this is true, I shall be seriously tempted to print Kelvin MacKenzie's home phone number and to urge every child who ever is left alone for a minute to phone him. Let's see how he cares.

THIS SEEMS to be a great season for new magazines or revamped old ones - not a day goes by without another glossy thump on my desk. Even Time asked me to lunch - rather a meagre lunch I thought, considering the grandeur of its offices - to explain its new 'Atlantic' coverage. Time's Atlantic, it turns out, is an area extending all the way from Sweden to South Africa but, fatally, centring on Brussels. I haven't actually bought Time, or felt any desire to read it, for at least 20 years: I suppose it might conceivably be useful if one happened to have been trekking across the Antarctic for a few months and needed to know there was a new American President, or a war on in Bosnia, but other than that it is hard to find any story that isn't better covered elsewhere. Yet I learn that it is read by 30 million people a week in 190 countries. Fancy.

More initially promising is the dummy of the new OK] magazine which is obviously intended to be the English Hello] Unfortunately, the dummy has the insuperable handicap of being in Latin, as well as having that irritating exclamation mark in the title. (Someone should have explained to the publisher that Hello] succeeded in spite of its title, not because of it.) But the real problem is that it intends, as it puts it, to 'major' on British celebrities which means that its stars-at-home are the predictable Gloria Hunnifords and Felicity Kendals and Anneka Rices rather than, say, Bo Derek, who is featured in the current Hello]. Her 'hacienda' has everything from fake Tiffany lamps to fake New Orleans ceiling fans by way of bullfighting pictures, branding irons, shotguns on the wall and what look like a couple of dead bears lying on barstools. No English house - sorry, home - could possibly compete, as OK] will find to its cost.

Altogether more exciting is The Field whose lifestyles of the rich and rural are far more exotic than anything Hello] or OK] could offer. Where OK] in one of its rare lapses into English has Paddy Ashdown yakking about gardening ('If I have a favourite plant, it's runner beans'), The Field more excitingly recommends crayfish farming or stick-making. But it is its fashion notes that constitute a real breakthrough - they are so clear and easy to follow. A top hat should not be worn before noon; long hair should be worn in a bun and short hair in a false bun - in an emergency an acceptable false bun can be made from teabags (dry ones, presumably); hemlines should cover the right foot and make a straight line to the back line of the skirt, thereby hiding 'the pendulum movement of the left leg'. Admittedly, these instructions occur in an article on riding side-saddle but I'm sure they could be universally applied.

IT IS HARD to decide if weirdo of the week is Michael Jackson, in Oprah Winfrey's brilliant television interview, or the 'Man who made love to pavements' in Friday's Sun. Mr Pavement - 'He even had a go at an underpass' - certainly looks the more normal. You could pass him in the street without a second glance unless he happened to be humping the highway. (I suppose it is the ultimate in safe sex.) Whereas one glimpse of Michael Jackson's mask-like face and Gothic hair would stop you dead in your tracks. However, according to Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson is 'the least weird man I know' - which makes one yearn to meet her other friends. What noses could they have? Do they have baboons in their bedrooms, ferris wheels on their forecourts? The Jackson interview was by far the most gripping ever televised but it left a lot of questions unanswered, the most serious of which was: Where was Bubbles? Michael Jackson was shifty on the subject, as on so much else. I have a nasty feeling that Mrs Fortensky's ring-bearer might be no more.